Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

Emily Mastellone-Snyder

I grew up on 100 acres in a town of 200 people in rural Massachusetts, and feel fortunate to have had the space to roam free and grow with the land. My mother is a passionate gardener, and her love of growing food and flowers clearly influenced my own love of gardening. As much as I loved where I grew up, I was also eager to see more of the world and experience life outside of my small community.

When it came time to go to college, I always thought I’d go out to California, but I instead found myself an hour and a half away from home at Skidmore College in upstate New York. It was here that I really discovered my passion for environmental issues and working with children.

For two summers in college, I volunteered in rural northern Guatemala. Here, I worked alongside an ecological park and women’s cooperative to help start a library. Inspired to learn more about Central America, I spent a semester abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico with a program studying Grassroots Development and Social Change. I spent a month in independent study looking at the effects of genetically modified corn on the social and biological diversity of Mexico. In both places, I lived with host families and had exciting, eye-opening experiences by truly immersing myself in the culture and language.

In the summer before my senior year of college, I decided it was time for me to try out life in California, so I went to work at Hidden Villa Summer Camp in Los Altos Hills, CA. What a formative summer this was! My experience there opened me up to the world of outdoor, farm, and garden-based environmental education–after that, I was hooked. My first job out of college was as a teacher naturalist at San Mateo Outdoor Education Program deep in the redwood forest in La Honda, CA. I was mesmerized the moment I arrived to live, teach, work and play there. I spent the next three years there, in awe of the redwood trees and the coast, spending every free moment teaching myself about the ecology of the land. This is also where I learned many silly and educational songs to sing and play on the guitar.

With summers off, I decided to pursue my interest in farming, and WWOOFed (volunteered) and apprenticed at farms in Alaska and in California. From there, it was clear that I loved having my hands in the dirt, and I went on to immerse myself in farming and gardening at the UCSC Farm and Garden program in Santa Cruz. During my time as a farm apprentice, I volunteered to lead some field trips with Life Lab, and after that, I had always hoped that I’d get a job there some day—and here I am! After graduating the Farm and Garden program, I started a small, part-time ecological landscaping business in Santa Cruz.

I worked a season as a naturalist at the Pigeon Point Environmental Education Program located at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero, CA. Here, I taught K-8 groups marine ecology, leading tidepooing sessions and weekly trips to visit elephant seals–as well as putting on a weekly elephant seal musical puppet show. I went on to direct the bilingual North Coast Teen Center in Davenport, CA, where I created programing for empowerment, health & wellness, and homework help for low-income teens. I also coordinated the Live Earth Farm Discovery Program (LEFDP) in Watsonvile, CA, on a 130-acre organic family farm. At LEFDP, I led farm-based field trips for school groups and ongoing programs for all ages. Favorite activities were visiting and caring for the large flocks of chickens (and chicks) and the herd of milking goats (and kids), as well as working in the fields and education garden.

One of my favorite parts of my job at Life Lab is seeing the awe and wonder in children’s faces when they try (and like!) a food for the first time, or make a connection about where their food comes from. I especially love leading children in singing songs about food, gardening, ecology, or just about anything. I have the pleasure of getting to work with great crews of motivated and creative interns and camp counselors who bring the magic of the garden alive for children!

When I’m not at work, you can find me in my garden at home, or hiking or backpacking somewhere beautiful. You might also find me in my kitchen, cooking or preserving food, or making music. 

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Teaching a Growing Classroom Workshop at @OakSpringGardenFoundation in collaboration with I feel like I’ve fallen into a small French village. This is the former estate of Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in Virginia. Mrs. Mellon was an avid horticulturalist who designed the White House Rose Garden! I am staying in the room where Jackie Kennedy stayed when she visited here!! Sharing a weekend in this space with teachers who love kids and gardens is a truly unforgettable experience. ... See MoreSee Less

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Just when I thought we’d seen it all ... this is an agrophotovoltaic school garden underneath massive solar panels at @Manzo.Ecology in Tucson. The elementary school students here gather and analyze data on how the shade from the panels helps the plants grow and how the plants help cool the panels and increase their efficiency. What?!?! It’s amazing and gives me hope. Oh, and also they have a desert tortoise in their courtyard. ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program at their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
#thankyou, #grateful, #ReduceReuseRecycle, #isupportlifelab
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What happens when Whole Kids Foundation partners with you to bring 50+ leaders from School Garden Support Organizations from across the country together to get to talk shop, inspire each other, problem-solve around shared challenges, and eat amazing food prepared and served by happy 5th graders? MAGIC. That's what happens. #sgso2018 ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program for their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
#thankyou, #grateful, #ReduceReuseRecycle, #isupportlifelab
... See MoreSee Less

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We are so grateful to be starting 2018 with such strong support! Because of so many generous gifts from our supporters like you, we surpassed our 2017 fundraising goal of $124,000, with all campaign donations totaling $125,835.

These funds will help make Life Lab field trip and summer camp programs possible for children from families and schools that could otherwise not afford them. We believe that ALL children deserve the chance to love learning, healthy food, and nature. Thanks to your support, this year we will serve even more children in Santa Cruz County and across the nation.


#beapartofit, #startingstrong, #changinglives, #isupportlifelab
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Happy almost 2018, Life Lab fans! We are only $809 dollars away from reaching our $124,000 year-end fundraising goal! Before you ring in the new year, will you help us ensure a promising 2018? 100% of the funds necessary to do this important work come from grants and from individuals like you. Will you join us in ensuring that we can continue to deepen and expand our reach, so that even more children can experience the joy of loving learning, healthy food, and nature? Your tax-deductible gift made by midnight tonight will go directly to supporting our programs.
#beapartofit, #changinglives, #optoutside, #gardenbasededucation, #happynewyear
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Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.
Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom